(Continued from History Friday: as Paul Harvey used to say, This is the rest of the story!)
The Dowager Tsarina Marie, Olga Kulikovsky, her sister Xenia and her husband and family all traveled to the Crimea, where they lived for a time at the estate near Yalta owned by Xenia’s husband with other members of the Imperial family. While there in the Crimea, Olga gave birth to her first child, a son named Tihon. They all were under house arrest and eventually tried by a revolutionary court and sentenced to death. Quarrels between rival groups of local Bolsheviks and developments in the war – the war with Germany and the internal war between Red and White Russian factions prevented enactment of that sentence and allowed for the escape of the surviving Romanovs from Russia. Olga’s mother and the remainder of the Imperial family, their friends and loyal retainers were evacuated on a British warship. Olga and Colonel Kulikovsky and their baby son did not want to leave Russia, and with the help of a Cossack former Imperial bodyguard, sought safety in the that bodyguard’s home village in the Crimea. They were safe there for a time, as the area was held by the White Russian faction. There, she gave birth to a second son, Guri, but the White faction was already losing control of the territory they held, and at the end of 1919, the Kulikovskys had to leave Russia for good. With the assistance of the Danish consul in Novorossiysk on the Black Sea. Olga’s family traveled to Denmark, by way of a refugee camp in Turkey, and Belgrade in Yugoslavia, where they rejoined the Dowager Tsarina Marie.
For most of the next decade, Olga Kulikovsky served as her mother’s secretary and companion. It was an awkward situation, as the Tsarina Marie had not totally approved of her daughter marrying an untitled commoner – so against all of her family’s customs and tradition, and the two Kulikovsky boys annoyed their grandmother by being rambunctious and noisy. This stay was broken once, by a visit to Berlin in 1925, to interview Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Olga’s niece, Anastasia. Olga denied Anderson’s claim, but generously conceded that the woman was ill and being used by others. For the rest of her life, Olga and her family would be pestered by various Romanov imposters.
The Dowager Tsarina Marie died three years later. Although Olga maintained contact with many of her royal relatives and with exiled White Russians, for the next twenty years she and her husband and two sons (then aged 13 and 11) lived a relatively simple unpretentious life, working a small dairy farm near Ballerup, about 15 miles from Copenhagen, a farm which she had purchased with her share of an inheritance from the Tsarina Marie. Olga kept house, worked in the field and barn, took eggs and farm produce to the market, and continued painting. It seems that the Kulikovsky’s neighbors were startled and nonplussed to be reminded at intervals that Olga was a Romanov, a daughter and sister of the Russian Tsars, because she seemed so very ordinary and unpretentious. The princess had gone her own way and was completely happy and fulfilled in it. (Those watercolors of her life there, the farm, the home at Christmas, her sons and her husband are completely charming in their simple domesticity.)
Her sons, Tihon and Guri, were officers in the Danish army in WWII – and briefly held as prisoners of war upon the Nazi occupation of Denmark. Otherwise, the Kulikovsky family were bothered in the same degree as any other Danish bourgeois family by the Occupation. Possibly the Nazis hoped to recruit anti-Soviet partisans to their banner, but given the all-encompassing contempt for the so-called “Slavic” race, the relative kid-glove treatment of Olga and her family might owe more to a reflexive tendency to defer to those perceived to be of a high social class. What with being closely related by blood and marriage to just about every royal family in Western Europe, Olga Kulikovsky had social privilege and friends in high places, of which the average plebian Nazi could only dream.
The victory of the Allies in Europe in 1945 brought a degree of unrest to the Kulikovsky family, because Soviet Russia was one of those Allies, and at least briefly in good standing with the other European, British and American allies. The Soviet Russians had also formally occupied – or perhaps “liberated” a portion of Denmark. Worrisome; and even more worrisome, making growling motions toward treating anyone who had ever made even the slightest gesture of resistance or disapproval of Soviet Russia as a so-called “war criminal”. Olga Kulikovsky and her family, being fully aware of this animus and of how so many of her kin and those of anti-Soviet sympathies had been slaughtered wholesale in the Red Revolution, were understandably nervous. Likely she and her family couldn’t or wouldn’t be legally extradited to Soviet Russia on whatever spurious charges the Soviets might generate – but that did not rule out the possibility of kidnapping or assassination. She and her sister Xenia were the last living children of a ruling Tsar, after all.
So in 1948 Olga Kulikovsky and her family – which by then included her sons’ wives (the plebian daughters of farmers and small businessmen) and two grandchildren, and a single housemaid-companion who had followed Olga from Russia – emigrated to Canada. She and her husband took up another small farm, near Campbellville, Ontario, but gave it up four years later to live in a small cottage in what would become a suburb of Toronto. Nicolai Kulikovsky’s health began to fail, and Tihon and Guri had their own lives to lead with their families. Olga and her husband continued to live a simple, modest life; she did her own shopping and gardening, and only purchased cheap clothing. Sorrow arrived, in the form of death for Colonel Kulikovsky in 1958. Now and again she received visits from prominent dignitaries – many to whom she was related, or invitations from them, including an invitation from Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip for lunch on the royal yacht when they visited Toronto in 1959. She had to buy a new dress and hat for that, likely at the urging of her daughters-in-law.
Early in 1960, an increasingly frail Olga had to be hospitalized. When released from the hospital, she was no longer strong enough to live alone. She went to stay with a Russian émigré couple who were good friends. They lived in an apartment over a beauty parlor in an urban low-rise street in Toronto – and in that place the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrova Romanov, latterly Mrs. Nicolai Kulikovsky passed away at the age of 78. Officers of the old Imperial regiment of which Olga had been the honorary colonel and of the Blue Cuirassier regiment to which her husband had belonged stood guard. The church where her funeral was held was packed.
In the end, she managed to have the life that she wanted; an ordinary prosaic life, a life with the husband of her choice, a life of quiet work, of art and love, far away from the dangerous privilege and unimaginable riches that were her heritage. She did not live by sponging off her royal connections, and trading on her former titles after the Red Revolution. At the same time, she managed to do her duty to her family – in hand-holding her mother for a decade and fending off a procession of spurious claimants to supposed Romanov riches. She did her duty to her country by serving as a battlefield nurse in the First World War, and in supporting and befriending those Russians who fled the bloody mess that was the Red Revolution.
And that is the story of the princess who went her own way.